Book review: How Cav Won The Green Jersey: Dispatches from the 2011 Tour de France (Ned Boulting)

February 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Posted in books, cycling | 5 Comments
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This ‘digital short’ consists of (at least, according to Brian of the washing machine post) the final chapters that never made it into How I Won The Yellow Jumper. If you’ve read Yellow Jumper, then the style is familiar, and so is the general approach: events from the race are woven together with sideways observations on the mundane, behind-the-scenes life of the Tour. The text is punctuated with pictures, as in Yellow Jumper: happily, you can actually see them clearly this time, thanks to the ebook format.

This isn’t Yellow Jumper part 2, though. Yellow Jumper covers eight years of reporting on the Tour de France: what changed (Ned’s development from a neophyte into an obsessive), and what didn’t (laundry, hotels, food, toilets). How Cav Won The Green Jersey, by contrast, is a detailed description of highlights of the 2011 Tour. Yellow Jumper’s pretty structured, given that it’s a set of anecdotes organised around themes, without much chronology to support it. It has a narrative arc; a beginning, middle and end. It feels measured, and conscious, and planned. Green Jersey feels looser, wilder and woollier; more like a breathless phone call from a friend who just got to go backstage and met the band and OH my ACTUAL GOSH!

There’s a lot of lively discussion of the riders and teams, from Ned’s perspective as a reporter and (sometimes) as a fan. His portrayal of the Vacansoleil team, with their maverick, aggressive approach to the race, is tied into a vision of ‘real’ Vacansoleil holidays:

The beating heart of Hoogerland Holidays is very different. There is, if you listen hard, Lou Reed blaring from a distorting beatbox across the road, where the parents have collapsed on half-deflated lilos in the pool with a bottle of Jack Daniels, a bong and a bargain bucket of fried chicken.

Ned does write very well. It’s like listening to him talk – particularly like his scripted segments on the telly, where you can be misled by his jokey, blokey approach into assuming he isn’t saying anything very complex. There’s a lot packed into the observations here, and Ned has a way of bringing in his considerable knowledge and insight without coming across as pompous, or lecturing anyone. Quite a feat.

There are plenty of proper laughs (like a beautiful description of Chris Boardman’s superhuman ability to be simultaneously awake and asleep, and a lovely account of mutual incomprehension in an interview with Samuel Sanchez), and characters like Chris, Liam, Matt and the infamous Carno are succinctly and affectionately drawn. It’s not just a romp, though. Room is made for reflection, as it was in Yellow Jumper, although the self-deprecating voice is never quite suppressed, so there is nothing in this book that quite matches Yellow Jumper’s surprising and moving chapter on Glenn Wilkinson.

More than anything, Green Jersey is a celebration of the heroes and characters of the 2011 Tour. It’s needed more than ever now, in the midst of incredible betrayals, crashing disappointments and bare-faced cheek. I’d started to feel that the Tour was that flamboyant, sexy exchange student who whisked me off my feet, promised me an exotic new life in the sun, sweet-talked me into a quick knee-trembler and ran off with my handbag. This book reminds me why it’s still worth being a cycling fan.

P.S. Like Ned Boulting? You might like Gosh, yes! Ned Boulting… then. From those lovely people at the @INBFC (International Ned Boulting Fan Club).

Snoggable chaps in procycling commentary

September 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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We’ve grown used to considering the ins and outs of bangability in pro cyclists. We’ve set up the spreadsheets, and laid down the criteria. Heated discussions take place on whether ballroom dancing ability enhances or diminishes bangability; the finer points of podium champagne spraying technique; and the delicate question of when to make ‘kaTUSHa’ jokes about arse-exposing rips in clothing. But while this focus on lycra is overdue and exciting, another set of men are increasingly taking our attention from the job in hand: the commentators. To acknowledge their expertise, quick thinking and ability to stand firm in the face of extreme weather conditions, we present the Most Snoggable Commentators on the Tour of Britain 2011. In reverse order:

3. Yanto Barker

Yanto’s the boy you had an enormous crush on at school. Remember? He was in the sixth form when you were in the fifth, and you used to crane your neck in assembly to get a look at him as he wandered in, tall and rangy, with his gaggle of slightly-less-cool mates. You assumed he was remote and off-hand, but then one of your friends found out he wrote poetry, and held a torch for a quiet girl in his class, who brushed off his advances while gazing soulfully into the distance from under her long fringe. Of course, you loved him even more for this. Eventually, once the whole school knew about your secret crush, he talked to you. You got on! You went to gigs together, and spent hours sitting on cold walls laughing about everything! Then he asked your best friend out. AND SHE SAID YES. Bitch.

Verdict: Most likely not to be what he appears.

2. Matt Rendell

Remember your history teacher? Or maybe your English teacher? The stern one who kept even the rowdiest boys in check, and still managed somehow to be cool? Maybe he was in a band in his spare time, or went on demos, or had an exotic girlfriend from a far-off place. He didn’t look much like the pop stars your friends were obsessing over, but you still wanted his approval. He turned you into a good student, although you were working hard for all the wrong reasons. You sought out long words to use in your essays, and composed cheeky-yet-well-informed comments to throw out in lessons, like you’d just thought of them. Every time he smiled at one of these, you were a bit further gone. Eventually he moved to Scotland, and you developed a crush on Yanto Barker instead. But every now and again, you’re listening to the cycling commentary, and you think ‘Bah! Hyperbole! Or is it litotes?’ And you think of him.

Verdict: Most likely not even to be aware of you.

1. Ned Boulting

Ned was your big brother’s best mate. They watched the footie together; they went fishing on their bikes at the weekend; he was round at your house for tea almost every week, sitting playing computer games in your brother’s room. But then one weekend, you went to a party, and Ned was there. And he’d had a haircut, and he was wearing trendy jeans and a shirt instead of one of his ancient t-shirts, and you thought, oh. Crikey. And you went over and said hallo, do you want some of this beer? And you had such a great conversation with him; he was bright, warm and funny and had lovely eyes, and, oh. How had you not seen? How stupid you’d been! How great that you’d realised in time! And then his girlfriend appeared. Ned went on to marry this girl, and have delightful kids with her, and you are still friends with him, and go to visit him, even though it breaks your heart.

Verdict: Most likely to be the One. Go and get him now, before it’s too late.

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